Building a car from the ground up is costly and time consuming, and it can be a very stressful process if a professional shop does the work. Hundreds of man-hours quickly add up to thousands of dollars and there's no way to turn back once the build starts to take shape. One way to avoid all this stress is to find a car that someone else started, and personalize it to your liking. That's exactly what Bob Bowe did with this stunning '66 Chevelle, and he seems pleased with the results.
It wasn't an overnight rebuild though, as Bowe purchased the Chevelle in late 2000, a running and driving car with a big-block and automatic transmission. Bob recently upgraded the suspension, greatly increasing the car's handling capabilities and giving it the low down stance. A new engine, a new six-speed transmission and a fresh set of wheels and tires are his latest additions, but they're certainly not his last.
When Bowe bought the car, he ran the numbers to ensure it was a true Super Sport, and as it turns out, the Chevelle lived most of its life in California. That was a high point, because Bowe's home state of Michigan isn't exactly the home of rust-free automobiles. Knowing he had a solid starting point, Bowe considered having the car painted, because the finish didn't suit his tastes, but he was pleasantly surprised when he took it to Aman's Body Shop in Canton, Ohio. The crew inspected it and informed him that it may be repairable with a quality color sanding and buffing. He gave it a shot and the results are awesome, to say the least.
With its slick finish, the Torch Red paint gave off a much-improved sheen, with no orange peel or ripples like before. Now that the body and paint met his approval, Bowe swapped the automatic for a Super T-10 four-speed, and began having fun behind the wheel. This combination pleased him for a while, but when it came time for a new powerplant, he didn't mess with the original 396—he opted for a 454, which would be bored to 461ci. Bill Lloyd of Canton, Ohio, performed the engine work, bolting down the forged Eagle crankshaft before sliding the Wiseco forged pistons and Eagle H-beam connecting rods into the freshly-honed cylinders.
A set of Chevrolet Performance oval-port aluminum heads rests atop the short-block, providing tremendous airflow, at a much lighter weight than iron cylinder heads. A Comp Cams hydraulic camshaft sends the huge valves into motion, while an Edelbrock 800cfm carburetor forces a perfect mixture of fuel and air through the Edelbrock intake manifold. An MSD distributor sends fire to all the cylinders, while the Hooker Super Comp headers direct airflow out of the heads and into a pair of Flowmaster 40-series mufflers. Bowe told us the big-block manages to get 15mpg, which is mighty impressive considering its output of 541 hp and 587 lb-ft. of torque. Of course, this fuel mileage is a product of the new overdrive transmission, a T56 six-speed built by Michigan's D&D Performance, and fit with a Hayes clutch set.
With the running gear and exterior to his liking, Bowe's next step made the biggest impact on the car's appearance. He went for the pro touring look, so a call to Hotchkis got a set of tubular upper and lower control arms, and a pair of QA1 coilovers allow him to dial in the ride height and handling. A pair of Bell Tech two-inch drop spindles brings the stance down even more, while the 13-inch Baer brakes look great behind the spokes of the 18x9-inch Bonspeed Huntington wheels. Out back, the wheels measure 19x10 inches, and the rotors come in at 12 inches.
Power application comes from a GM 12-bolt, fit with Moser 31-spine axles, Positraction and 3.73 gears. For the rear suspension, Bowe bought a Speed Kit 3 from Detroit Speed, which includes the patented Swivel-link control arms, a chassis brace kit, DSE-tuned coilover shocks, and a tubular rear sway bar. The complete kit made for a quick and simple install, and it brought this Chevelle to a whole new level, in terms of performance and stance.
Upon purchasing the Chevelle, Bowe didn't have a problem with the stock interior, but with the pro touring look going strong, he decided to change that, too. In an effort to match the exterior appearance, he swapped the original seating arrangement for a new pair of Flo-Fit bucket seats, custom formed by All American Auto Upholstery in Wayne, Michigan. These new seats feature custom backs and trim to replicate the original buckets. Bowe then upgraded to a set of Auto Meter Ultra-Lite gauges and slid a Billet Specialties steering wheel onto the original column. A Vintage Air A/C unit keeps the cockpit comfortable, while the Custom Autosound stereo fills it with Bowe's favorite tunes.
After the new wave of modifications, Bowe's Chevelle is at a stopping point, where he can finally put down the wrenches and start driving it. He doesn't regret any of the changes he made, and he plans to make more somewhere down the road. Sliding behind the wheel is now a pleasure, as Bowe can cruise comfortably, even with 540hp awaiting the slightest twitch from his right foot. Whether he's on the autocross course, on the highway or lounging alongside the car at an event, Bob Bowe has a great time with his Chevelle, knowing he took a cool Chevy and made it even better.